Roskilde Festival

Roskilde Festival Review: Bob Dylan, Christine and the Queens, Hatari, Fontaines DC, Jpegmafia, Ulver, July 3

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Not every festival has its own overarching theme, but Roskilde does, and the theme of this year’s Roskilde Festival (its 49th edition) was solidarity.

Inspired by young people around the world fighting to make the world a better place while also hearkening back to Roskilde’s origins in the ’70s youth movement, the Danish festival demonstrated that it’s about more than just a big party (though it is absolutely about that as well). This was reflected in the festival’s programming through the booking of several socially conscious artists such as Petrol Girls, Lankum, and Stella Donnelly and speakers like activist Saffiyah Khan as well as in the festival’s donations to various organizations such as Freemuse and Popkollo (selected as this year’s “orange donation” by Swedish rapper Silvana Imam who played the Orange stage on the first night of the fest).

In the words of spokeswoman Christina Bilde, “Roskilde Festival is a journey that lasts for eight days, a journey that can set you free and take you new places. We’re creating a space together where you can open up in a different way. The people you experience art or a talk with and the atmosphere you’re in, it’s something that combines to let you be inspired. You might not change your everyday life drastically afterwards, but if you’ve taken part actively, I believe that it inspires you to do things differently.”

That notion of bringing people together to share ideas and see things in new ways was evident in Christine And The Queens’ fantastic, energetic performance on the Arena stage with Chris speaking to the crowd about her shows being a safe space for anyone to be whoever they want to be. She later mentioned how it’s a safe space for her as well and that she often uses drama to become who she wants to be during the introduction to “iT.” That theme of reinventing yourself and being whoever you want to be is a recurring one in Christine and The Queens’ work and it occurred to me that in a way, it’s something Chris has in common with another of the evening’s headliners – Bob Dylan.

I’m certainly not the first to say that Bob Dylan’s live shows in recent years can be a bit of a hit or miss affair, but the thing is, Bob Dylan has always been about subverting expectations. It’s been that way since he went electric at Newport and as Martin Scorsese’s recent Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story made clear, Dylan does what pleases him rather than just giving the audience what they want.

And while the experience of playing “name that tune” as the man croaks and growls his way through drastically revamped versions of the classics continues to be fairly standard for a Dylan concert, Dylan’s band is top notch and the constant tinkering with arrangements can sometimes yield great results, with “Simple Twist Of Fate”, “Love Sick” and “Gotta Serve Somebody” standing out as particular highlights. Another highlight came when Dylan got up from behind his piano at the end of “Gotta Serve Somebody”, danced a sort of jig for a second, then posed like some kind of weird Elvis. It was kind of amazing. Having seen both great and well, not so great shows from Dylan, I went in with no expectations and the show turned out to be quite enjoyable. And judging by the smile on Dylan’s place, he seemed to be enjoying himself too. I’d wager that the always enthusiastic crowd at Roskilde probably played some part in his mood.

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Perhaps the most unique and memorable performance of the first night though came from Iceland’s Hatari, an S&M themed industrial band who have their hearts set on destroying capitalism and who were somehow the unlikely entry for their homeland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Not too many bands take to the stage following a pre-recorded manifesto, but then again. there’s not too many anti-capitalist, S&M-themed industrial bands out there. There probably only needs to be the one – Hatari have that area covered and they do what they do quite well.

Other impressive performances on this evening came from acts across various genres who illustrated the diversity within the festival’s lineup. From the Fall-esque post-punk of Fontaines DC and the confrontational hip hop of Jpegmafia to the ever evolving Ulver (who have now morphed into some mutant form of electro-pop far from their black metal origins), each of them take a different approach to their music, but like Bob Dylan, Hatari, and Christine And The Queens, they all understand the importance of image and attitude in cultivating a certain mood in their live show.

Roskilde Review Day 4: Nasum, H2O, Santigold, July 8, Denmark

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At one point during Machine Head’s mainstage set, frontman Rob Flynn complimented Roskilde for it’s diversity and inclusiveness, noting how all kinds of genres come together and everyone supports everyone else. He commented on how the first time they played there, the band went on right before Willie Nelson. He seemed especially impressed that Willie watched their whole set and said that they, in turn watched his.  Because he’s Willie Nelson. “That’s the power of music,” said Flynn, and it really is true. Roskilde is the kind of festival where anything goes, where toddlers and grandparents enjoy a Refused show or some teenagers take in a set by Ars Nova, a vocal ensemble dedicated to the music of composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Music is just music at Roskilde, regardless of genre divisions. That dedication to diversity meant that on the final day of the festival, I took in a bit of everything, from the choral music of Ars Nova to the swampy New Orleans funk of Dr. John to Bjork (Bjork is her own genre) to the extreme metal of resurrected grindcore legends Nasum.

The Swedes lost their vocalist Mieszko Talarcyk in the tsunami of 2004, making a true reunion impossible, and in the words of Nasum’s remaining members, it wasn’t really a reunion at all. “You thought Nasum was dead? We are. This is not resurrection. It’s farewell, for good.” So said the band in a statement announcing their farewell tour/celebration of what would have been their 20th anniversary. ‘Nuff said.  With Rotten Sound  vocalist Keijo Ninimaa taking Talarcyk’s place, the band was ready to say goodbye to their fans and apparently enjoying themselves immensely in the process. You can’t really tell from the photo above, but their guitarist is quite possibly the happiest guy in metal. He looked so excited and stoked to be playing. When he wasn’t grinning from ear to ear, he was making metal faces, licking his guitar, lifting his guitar in the air triumphantly, and often spitting in the air then trying (and always failing) to catch it in his mouth. The rest of the band was no less intense as they blew through their songs at a breakneck pace with incredible passion. I know the Refused reunion was way more heavily hyped and it’s obviously not a competition, but for the record, as much as I enjoyed Refused, as far as reunited Swedes making heavy music go, Nasum were better.

Also passionate about their music were ’90s NYHC survivors H2O, who offered up a set of catchy. positive, melodic hardcore. Echoing Rob Flynn`s comments, singer Toby Moore was preaching the power of how music, specifically hardcore in his case, can have a huge impact on the course of one’s life.  “Because of this music, I haven`t had any drugs or alcohol for 42 years. I haven’t eaten meat since 1988.” They then launched into “What Happened,” a lament for the state of punk today. A totally high energy set.

Also high energy and ridiculously fun was Santigold‘s set on the Arena Stage. This woman knows how to put on one hell of a show. Since Ricky`s already written at length about the greatness of her shows in the past, I won’t go into great detail on the specifics but based on the descriptions of those shows, it was business as usual for Santigold. Maybe even better. Santigold is an assured performer, her backup band is great, and her backup singers/dancers were, well, great. They kind of reminded me in some way of the S1W guys who used to appear onstage with Public Enemy. They somehow kept a straight face no matter how crazy their dance moves. Speaking of dance moves, the most memorable moment in Santigold’s set almost became it’s downfall. When she invited the”best dancers” in the crowd to come onstage, the obliging security crew just kept letting more and more people through. 

“Guys, no more,” she pleaded as more and more bodies flooded the stage. That said, once they did get onstage, they had some pretty impressive moves and Santi was totally feeding off their energy and really stepping up her game in response. “I remember you guys now,” she said, recalling when she played Roskilde a couple of years ago and echoed a sentiment repeated by a number of performers throughout the course of the festival – that this crowd is one of the best crowds they’ve ever played to. I know a lot of the time, they’re just saying that, but at Roskilde, I get the feeling that they’re not just saying that.

Roskilde Review Day 2: Punch Brothers, Lee Ranaldo, The Vaccines, The Cult, July 6, Denmark

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If a bluegrass band playing a note for note cover of a Radiohead song sounds like the geekiest thing in the world to you, you may be right. If you also think it sounds amazing and fun, then you’re probably already familiar with Punch Brothers. Sure, calling them a bluegrass band is a bit reductive as the band incorporates so many influences into their sound, from pop to jazz, even a hint of R’nB and much more, but when you’ve got mandolin, banjo, and fiddle onstage and you play a Bill Monroe number in your set, you’re basically a bluegrass band, albeit a very progressive and eclectic one. Chrile Thile led the band through a great set that totally got the crowd going and showed off their musical talents to the full extent. Besides the aforementioned Radiohead cover, other highlights included “Don’t Get Married Without Me” and a cover of The Band’s “Ophelia.”  I figured their midnight set would be the perfect way to end my Friday night.

Of course, as these things go, my night didn’t quite end there. It ended with a pretty raucous set by Amsterdam DJ collective Amsterdance (clever name, no?), which was not part of my original plan. My original plan was  to make my way to the train station where I would catch the train back to Copenhagen for the night.  Yup, too old and used to comfort for camping. Naturally, I had to wait nearly an hour until the next train would arrive and so I took it upon myself to explore the nearby campgrounds. So, arming myself with a can of beer so as to fit in, I ventured into the strange little society that is a European festival campground. Dudes having a mini dance party to Iron Maiden’s “Wasted Years,” people chucking empty bottles into a pile in the middle of the pathway, others who had set up elaborate (and kind of impressive) soundsystems and even functioning bars at their campsite – these are among the sights I saw. It’s definitely a weird scene, but one that looks like a lot of fun in it’s own way. I can see why they set up the electronic dance music stage (which was inflatable by the way) outside of the proper festival grounds and near the campsite.  This is where the party happens. And Amsterdance brought the party. It was everything a late night dance party in a muddy field should be. Still glad I wasn’t camping though. That place kind of smelled like a urinal full of mud. 

Highlights from earlier in the day included Gossip‘s Beth Ditto going all disco diva on the crowd and learning the word “skol,” which she used throughout her set, Dorit Chrysler playing some late night theremin music, and The Vaccines rocking out with a totally fun set of tunes. Way more fun than The Cult, whose set overlapped with theirs. Not sure why I felt the need to checck out The Cult again, since I saw them just over a year ago at Hellfest, but hey, sometimes you just want to hear “Love Removal Machine.” When I saw them last, I noted that Ian Astbury seemed a bit weird.  Maybe he was just having a bad day i thought.  Nope, I think the dude’s just constantly cranky. That’s not to say the band didn’t rock out. They did (though I wasn’t really feeling the tunes off their latest, Choice Of Weapon). It’s just The Vaccines power pop tunes seemed more fun at the time.

The set of the day for me though, would have to have been Lee Ranaldo. The former Sonic Youth guitarist led his band through a solid set that was immensely satisfying. Playing tunes from Between The Times And Tides, his latest solo album and first with real, actual songs on it, along with covers of Neil Young and The Talking Heads, Ranaldo impressed the diehards up front, which included oldsters who probably started listening to Sonic Youth when they started in the early ’80s along with kids who may not have even been born in the ’80s. No matter.  As one t-shirt being sold on the fest declared, “music has no borders.” I would imagine that includes age as well.

Roskilde Review Day 1: Clock Opera, Today Is The Day, A$AP Rocky, July 5, Denmark

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Devotees of Denmark’s Roskilde Festival like to refer to the “Orange Feeling,” so named for the festival’s famous tented orange stage and referring to the overall vibe of the fest in general. I’ve got to say that I’ve come to understand said feeling, having succumbed to it’s charms after attending last year. For such a massive festival, it can also have a really small scale vibe to it as well, catering to the most obscure of tastes while also offering up the massive crowd pleasers. Back for another round this year, I was eager to take it all in again. And so, after skipping out on most of The Shins‘ set (sorry, Natalie Portman,they never really changed my life), I wandered over to the Pavilion Stage to check out Clock Opera.

Having heard good things about the London band, I was hoping to be impressed and they did not disappoint. The matching floral print shirts on three quarters of the band were kind of worth it alone, but their grandiose sounding electropop tunes also held up. Songs like “Once and For All” really got the crowd going and the band themselves were impressed with the reaction, with frontman Guy Connelly noting that many festival crowds would have partially dispersed for greener pastures by that point in their set. He also mentioned how they’d never been given that amount of time in which to play before, another nice thing about Roskilde being their dedication to giving each performer at least an hour onstage if they so choose. Clock Opera were definitely experiencing the “orange feeling.” And loving it.

From there I was drawn in to the arty noise metal sounds of Today Is The Day. Frontman Steve Austin’s an intense fellow, but not without a sense of humour, as evidenced by the band’s cover of Bad Companys “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” which the band played with their usual trademark intensity. “How to take a piece of shit and shine it,” noted Austin, before adding, “I hope you all get laid tonight.” Austin and co. continued on with this theme later in the set, adding another sex themed cover song, The Beatles’ “Why Dont We Do It In The Road.” They may seem like scary sorts at first, but these guys know how to have fun onstage, and festivals are all about fun.  Chalk this one up to orange feeling too.

Also fun was A$AP Rocky’s set later that night, a smart bit of counterprogramming for all the kids who didn’t get what weird old Uncle Robert and his mates in The Cure were up to on the main stage (for the record, it sounded great). Rocky really got the crowd going, leading them through chants of A$AP! (of course), asking how many in the crowd smoked weed (apparently a lot), and giving various people in the crowd a shout out, such as this gem: “Shout out to my boy in the back with his arms up and shit. I see you.” And luckily for those throwing their beers around, they weren’t throwing them in the direction of the stage or this show may have ended very differently. Rocky impressed with his swagger and high energy show. He definitely caught a bit of the orange feeling that night. However, for the duration of his set, I think all involved would agree to change the name to purple feeling for A$AP Rocky’s sake


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